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Lord Whitty: In this as in other areas of the Bill there is the possibility of political conflict between the mayor and the national government and in extremis there must be a means of resolving it. Provided that the Secretary of State acts reasonably, the Secretary of State has the final say. If it were left unresolved, we would be in a more difficult situation than that referred to by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister mentioned the comparable powers in respect of other parts of the country. I shall reflect on that because the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is right about the situation in London. I want to give myself the opportunity to think about any technical differences which might make it a concern in London where it has so far worked all right, because an autocratic Secretary of State may be just around the corner. I hope not, but I want to ensure that if there is one his or her powers are defined in a way that makes the exercise of the autocracy more difficult. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 411 to 418 not moved.]

Clause 272 agreed to.

Clause 273 [Matters to which the Mayor is to have regard]:

[Amendment No. 419 not moved.]

Clause 273 agreed to.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I beg to move that the Committee stage be adjourned until 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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[The Sitting was suspended from 8.10 to 8.40 p.m.]

[Amendment No. 420 not moved.]

Clause 274 [Regulations]:

[Amendments Nos. 420A to 424 not moved.]

Clause 274 agreed to.

Clause 275 [Amendments of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990]:

[Amendment No. 425 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 425A:

Page 146, line 8, at end insert--
("( ) In subsection (6) of that section (formulating general policies in Part I of a unitary development plan) after paragraph (a) there shall be inserted--
"(aa) if the authority is a London borough, the spatial development strategy;".")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 425A is grouped with Amendment No. 449. The London boroughs are obliged, under Section 9 of the Town and Country Planning Act, to have regard to national, regional and strategic policy in formulating their unitary development plans.

The amendment requires the London boroughs to have regard to the spatial development strategy in the same way as they have regard to strategic planning guidance. It is entirely reasonable that the boroughs should be obliged to treat the spatial development strategy as pari passu with the regional planning guidance. That is why we tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I am a little surprised by Amendment No. 425A. I believe that it is already well provided for within the Bill. Clause 275(2) requires that the boroughs' UDPs are in general conformity with the SDS. That already gives the SDS relationship with UDPs far greater statutory weight than would this amendment. The amendment therefore has no practical effect, apart from slightly confusing the issue. I agree entirely with the objectives of the noble Lord, but I hope that he withdraws the amendment.

Amendment No. 449 would put an onus directly on the boroughs. Again, it is pretty clear that Clause 275 already does that. The SDS is, therefore, already covered as regards the boroughs' planning functions. The boroughs also have to carry out other local functions. To place them under a duty that they should have regard to the SDS in carrying them all out would clearly not be appropriate. As regards the planning function, that is already provided for. I hope that the noble Lord can withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: The amendment has served one useful purpose in that it has woken me up, and another in that it has surprised the Minister. I believe that is the first time I have achieved that, which is quite something. I shall study what the Minister says. However, in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 426 to 436 not moved.]

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8.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 437:

Page 147, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) In section 70 (determination of applications: general considerations) in subsection (2), after "development plan" there shall be inserted "and, if it is a London borough, the spatial development strategy"")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 437 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 438 to 442. These amendments are directed towards a similar point; that is, to ensure that the London boroughs are having proper regard to the mayor's spatial development strategy when they are dealing with planning applications.

Section 70 of The Town and Country Planning Act requires local planning authorities to determine planning applications having regard to the development plan and all other material considerations. The amendment requires that London boroughs should have regard to strategy as a material consideration when they are dealing with planning applications. That means that the mayor's policy will therefore be applied, along with everything else, when planning applications are determined without, we hope, the need for the mayor to intervene.

By their Amendment No. 442B, the Government recognise that the spatial development strategy should be expressly referred to in making development controlled decisions. That amendment writes into the Town and Country Planning Act an obligation on the mayor to consider the spatial development strategy when he is determining whether or not to exercise his power to direct refusal of planning permission. That puts a reciprocal obligation onto the local planning authorities so that they have a proper regard to spatial development strategy when they are determining their planning applications.

Amendment No. 438 suggests the removal of Clause 275(9). My amendments are aimed at simplifying the procedure. We are trying to strike out what would appear to be an unneeded third tier of planning control in London. The Bill, as drafted, proposes that the mayor should have power to direct the refusal of a planning permission. At present the boroughs have power to direct a refusal. When we come to consider the effect of this in the City, we believe that, if the mayor has power to direct a refusal of planning permission, he may reduce the efficiency with which the planning system works. That could be significant in its effect on the economy, and particularly on the City.

The City of London is in a very particular situation. It is in direct competition with Frankfurt and other financial centres in the mainland of Europe. It relies for its competitive position on two factors. The first is the huge intellectual resource that exists in and around London. The other equally important factor is its ability to provide both suitable accommodation and a communications infrastructure on a rapid timescale to keep it ahead of its competing cities. That is a desirable ambition and we do not want the planning system to be made more complex by the creation of a third way of holding up planning permissions. The mayor's powers on planning are all supposed to be strategic. The existing

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planning regulations work satisfactorily and the mayor should not have the power to direct that planning permission should not be granted. That is important.

The other amendments all relate to that point. It is fundamental to the future well-being of the City of London that we do everything that we can to keep the planning process as streamlined as possible in the interests of the City's competitive position, on which the whole of London and the rest of the country depend. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, because this is a complex group dealing with the provisions of Clause 275(9), which enables the Secretary of the State to give the mayor the power to direct refusal of planning permission. We have made it clear that such cases would need to be clearly defined and strictly limited to applications that are genuinely of potential strategic importance. That is to minimise the scope for conflict and confusion and to ensure that the mayor does not intervene in matters that are properly dealt with by the boroughs. Those principles were set out in the White Paper and are reflected in the Bill.

In Committee in another place my honourable friend the Minister for London announced the Government's conclusions on the consultation exercise that we had conducted and set out in detail how the mayor's ability to intervene will operate and how the applications will be defined.

The Government have tabled Amendments Nos. 438A, 440A and 440B. Amendment No. 438A provides clarification to ensure that when the Secretary of State makes an order he can also impose a duty on the mayor to give reasons when using the power under that order. Amendments Nos. 440A and 440B arise from a commitment made by my colleague the Minister for London to consider an amendment tabled by the Opposition in another place. That amendment has been repeated as Amendment No. 441. The Government's amendments will provide that the mayor shall have regard to the UDP and the spatial development strategy so far as is material to the application when considering whether to use his or her powers to direct refusal of planning permission. The amendments should ensure that the mayor's use of the power of direction, which is not a formal determination of an application, will be consistent with the approach taken by local planning authorities in the determination of planning applications in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. When using his or her powers of direction, the mayor will have to have regard to the unitary development plan currently in force and the spatial development strategy. In the light of the Government's amendments, I hope that the noble Lord will at least not press Amendment No. 441.

The other amendments move in the wrong direction. They would not secure the right balance between strategic and local interests. Even with a plan-led system, the success or failure of strategic policies will be determined through individual development control decisions. That is why it is important that the mayor should be consulted on the limited number of applications that raise issues of genuine strategic importance and that, in extremis, he or she should have

27 Jul 1999 : Column 1475

the fall-back power to direct refusal if important strategic concerns cannot be resolved. Amendment No. 438 would eliminate the mayor's fall-back power to direct refusal, leaving him or her toothless on issues of genuine strategic concern.

Amendment No. 439 is unnecessary. We have made it clear from the outset that the mayor would be involved only in applications of strategic importance. Stating that so baldly would create a fertile area for conflict and dispute. We propose to set down clear and unambiguous criteria for such cases in secondary legislation. My colleague the Minister for London has announced the details of those criteria. The thresholds and criteria chosen are important, but they are proxies for the definition of what is of strategic importance. They are designed to create clarity and certainty. That is important for all those concerned with the planning process, particularly developers and businesses. We have made it clear that the criteria can and should be reviewed in the light of experience, probably at the point at which the mayor has produced the first SDS.

Amendment No. 442 would limit the threshold to a narrow number of very large buildings. It says that the mayor should not intervene on any building lower than 150 metres. St Paul's Cathedral is only 111 metres high and there is currently only one building in the City of London higher than 150 metres. Buildings of the size of St Paul's have to be regarded as of strategic importance. We are proposing a limit of 75 metres, compared with 30 metres elsewhere in London, except for sites fronting the Thames. The floor space in the City is set at 30,000 square metres, rather than 20,000 square metres in the rest of central London or 15,000 square metres in outer London. We recognise that the City is different from the rest of London. I take nothing away from the noble Lord's references to the importance of allowing development that meets the economic needs of the City, but it is self-evident that buildings of the size of St Paul's Cathedral and others in the City should be included within the threshold. A development threshold of 150 metres is very high. It is important that the mayor should have a say on such developments.

We estimate that on our criteria the mayor would be consulted on only 150 to 250 applications, out of a total of 70,000 developments throughout London, all of which would be the responsibility of the boroughs. Even in those cases, we are talking about consultation in the first instance. The number of cases in which the mayor would want or need powers of intervention or refusal would be considerably smaller. I do not envisage any sensible mayor wanting to act in ways that could stifle the health of London's economy, particularly that of the City.

I also resist Amendment No. 440, which would restrict the applications on which the mayor could direct refusal. I accept that proposals that do not accord with the plan may be of particular interest to the mayor, provided that they are of sufficient scale or importance, but the scope of the mayor's consideration should not be as limited as is suggested in the amendment. The fact that a proposal is in accordance with a development plan does not mean that it does not merit or require detailed consideration or that it cannot raise issues that need to be considered at the strategic level. Amendments No. 442 and 440 would limit

27 Jul 1999 : Column 1476

the mayor's powers to insist on consultation and his powers of intervention in the last resort. That would undermine and harm the effectiveness of the mayor and the delivery of a spatial development strategy at the strategic level. I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendments. I shall move mine when appropriate.

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